The World Surf League (WSL) has set a new standard for 2019: men and women will receive equal payout. It’s about time we’ve closed this gender pay gap. Considering it’s the same waves, you'd think things would be divided equally—but it hasn’t been. The harsh reality is many pro female surfers have struggled to even earn a living while competing, no surprise when at times the prize purses can be 10 percent of their male counterparts. For example, Forbes recounts an instance when surfer Courtney Conlogue received $10,000, a purse that was bumped from a meager $4,500, for a 1st place finish in 2009. Mind you, the male payout was $100,000.
In a sport that requires a costly amount of travel simply to compete, these pay differences make or break the ability for female athletes to consider surfing as viable career. The WSL’s announcement is historic, not just because it’s been a long time coming, but they’re also the first and only US-based sports entity to seek to close this prevailing gender gap. Moving forward, if there’s a WSL event, the payout will be the same. Before, money was distributed on a pay parity system, which was proportionate to the number of competitors in the event.
The problem with that system was pay equality would not be achievable unless the amount of female surfers in events—currently 18 on tour in comparison to the 36 men—increased. Of course, this created a vicious cycle nearly impossible to break. Participation would remain stagnant with little encouragement and growth potential for female athletes to support themselves financially.
This was made especially apparent in July when a junior female surfer was photographed alongside her male counterpart, in which they both held their giant prize checks side by side yet their payout was blatantly disproportionate. Now, it’s the leagues hope that this new message will be heard loud and clear: it’s time to support and encourage female surfers.
It's a move that is only reflective of the organization’s goals to be a progressive and forward-thinking organization, and will be enacted through more than just equal pay. Sophie Goldschmidt, the WSL’s CEO, has also announced three female-focused initiatives that will aim to inspire and celebrate female participation. Beginning with a look back, the WSL will honor past female surfers in a Pioneers Program, which starts with highlighting World Champion Layne Beachley. Seeking to foster the next generation of aspiring surfers, the WSL will also host instructional clinics with female WSL athletes at each of the world championship stops of the tour. On top of this, there will be a global marketing campaign focused on the women’s tour to encourage viewership and fan engagement.
This marks a huge step forward not just for surfing but creates a needed standard for other sports to follow.